New superweeds fear from GM crops
Superweeds fear from GM crops
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday July 10, 2003
Scientific evidence shows that GM oilseed rape is expected to cross with five wild British plants, probably creating "superweeds" which are resistant to herbicides.
Maps produced yesterday to show the distribution of five wild species demonstrate that GM oilseed rape grown almost anywhere in the UK would contaminate native plants.
With the government decision on whether to introduce GM crops expected later this year, there is growing evidence it would have an irreversible affect on British wild plants.
Scientists are concerned that growing GM oilseed rape in the UK could lead to herbicide-tolerant genes and other traits escaping into the wild plant relatives. If this happens, it could lead to herbicide-tolerant "superweeds".
The government's wildlife adviser, English Nature, is also concerned about cross-pollination. Pure wild species can be vital when plant breeders need to create new varieties.
Government GM science advisers, the advisory committee on releases to the environment (Acre), have identified five wild plant species found in the UK for which there is scientific evidence that hybrids could be formed with oilseed rape. The list was confirmed by the European environment agency which concluded that "the risk of hybridisation is high".
These are wild turnip, hoary mustard, wild radish, brown mustard, and wild cabbage.
Friends of the Earth has mapped out where these five wild plants occur in the UK. In many places all five are found, showing that cross-contamination could happen quickly.
Last month, a study at Lille University in France warned that GM material can be spread over long distances by farm vehicles or by shoes. Such findings undermine the government's belief that GM contamination can be avoided by leaving a small distance between GM and conventional crops.
A further blow is likely to emerge tomorrow when one of the three government studies into the GM issue will reportedly state there is no economic benefits to the UK, a big blow to claims by the prime minister and environment secretary Margaret Beckett.
Recent research showed high levels of cross-pollination between GM oilseed rape and wild turnip growing in the same GM experimental plot in Humberside. In one field, 46% of seeds in a wild turnip plant were found to be GM.
Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, Pete Riley, said: "The long-term consequences of this are difficult to predict. The government must not allow the biotech industry to experiment with the UK's environment."
He said that one danger was losing valuable traits in wild crops that farmers might need. Where high-yield crops have been developed of all one type they can be devastated by disease. Wild varieties, with natural resistance, can be used to cross-breed for a defence against the new pest. This might not be possible if GM genes were present, he said.
NEW MAPS REVEAL MASSIVE EXTENT OF GM POLLUTION THREAT
Allowing GM oil seed rape to be commercially grown in the UK will almost certainly lead to widespread GM contamination, new maps published today by Friends of the Earth reveal.
Using national botanical data , Friends of the Earth has mapped out, for the first time, the locations of five of the most closely-related wild plant relatives to oil seed rape (such as wild turnip and wild cabbage) [2,3]. The maps show that these species, which are known to cross pollinate with the arable crop, are widespread across the whole country. If GM oil seed rape is grown practically anywhere in the UK, cross-breeding will be almost inevitable.
Scientists are concerned that allowing GM oilseed rape to be grown in the UK could lead to herbicide tolerant genes and other traits escaping into the wild plant relatives. If this happens, it could lead to the creation of herbicide tolerant `superweeds', creating weed control problems for farmers and problem weeds in wildlife habitats. Recently published research showed high levels of cross-pollination between GM oilseed rape and wild turnip in a GM experimental plot in Humberside .
Oilseed rape pollen can be carried great distances by the wind; low levels of pollen have been detected up to 2.5 km from fields . Bees are very attracted to oilseed rape fields. In Scotland bees from one hive were reported to fly 5 km to get to a rape field, and in research commissioned by Friends of the Earth, bees were found carrying GM pollen at a hive 4 km from a GM oilseed rape test site. Last month a new study by scientists at the Universit? de Lille in France warned that GM material can be spread over long distances (well beyond separation distances) by farm vehicles or by getting stuck to peoples' shoes .
Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Pete Riley said:
" These maps show that if G M oil seed rape is allowed to be grown anywhere in the UK it will almost certainly result in widespread GM contamination . G M pollen can be carried by the wind, bees and through human contact over vast distances . The long-term consequences o f this are difficult to predict . The Government must not allow the biotech industry to experiment with the UK's environment. G M crops must not be commercially grown in the UK. "
A Government-funded public debate on GM crops, launched last month, is due to end on 18 July. Later this year the Government is expected to make a decision on whether or not GM crops should be commercially grown in the UK. Friends of the Earth is urging the public to take part in the debate. A questionnaire is available at www.gmnation.com
Copies of the GM maps are available for publication.
Regional contacts are available from Friends of the Earth's press office.
1. The New Atlas of British and Irish Flora OUP 2002.
2. Friends of the Earth's maps are broken down into 10 km squares throughout the UK. They record the presence of wild relatives of oil seed rape within those squares (this is the most detailed information currently available). Data on the flora of the UK is still being improved and many grid squares may not have been surveyed at all. Furthermore, some the surveys may not be comprehensive. Oilseed rape is not grown in upland regions where wild relatives are less abundant.
3. The five relatives of oil seed rape mapped out are: Wild Turnip, Brown Mustard, Wild Cabbage, Hoary Mustard, Wild Radish.
4. 46% of seeds in a wild turnip plant were found to be GM in one field in Humberside. (Monitoring large scale releases of genetically modified crops (epg 1/5/84) incorporating report on project epg 1/5/30: monitoring releases of genetically modified crop plants Carol Norris and Jeremy Sweet, NIAB.The final report of monitoring studies of field scale releases of GM oilseed rape crops in England from 1994 - 2000.)
5. Timmons et al 1995 Assessing the risks of wind pollination from fields of genetically modified Brassica napus ssp oleifera Euphytica 85: 417-4236.
Fears raised over GM oil seed rape
Commercial growing of genetically modified oil seed rape will almost
certainly lead to widespread GM contamination
UK risks " superweed " GM pollution - green group
LONDON, July 10 (Reuters) - "Superweeds" could start growing in the
British countryside due to cross-pollination with genetically modified
(GM) oilseed rape